Starship Modeler: Using pro-Mat bakeable clay to scratchbuild figures and starship models

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Scratchbuilding with Pro-Mat Bakeable Clay

By Erin Lantz Copyright 1998

Pro-Mat bakeable clay is a readily available (at craft stores), easily worked material you can use for sculpting darn near anything. In the following articles, Erin shows how he made a Drakh starfighter (also known as the 'Yard Dart') from the 4th season of Babylon 5, and Vorlon and Shadow figures. These techniques can be applied to any subject, not just B5 - so read on!

Starships: Drakh 'Yard Dart'

Drakh ship - side view

Drakh ship - side view

Drakh ship - top view

Drakh ship (and Erin's bench!) - top view

Drakh wing

Close up of the wing

Vorlon ship in progress

Two views of a Vorlon ship being made with Pro-Mat

Vorlon ship in progress

The Drakh ship was a pain to get references on so it's not entirely accurate (I found stills of the ship after I built it). Since these ships are supposedly alive I figured that the skin wouldn't be perfect, but kinda rough like elephant skin (that's how I visualize all of the living ships of B5, except the shadows). If the outer surface of your subject isn't perfect, then the Pro-Mat is the stuff to use because it can be worked forever until you get just what you want. When you've got the shape down you bake it. The stuff droops kinda if you don't support it while baking, so be careful if you try this stuff. It also stays hot for a while after baking.

The wings were cut from 1/16" thick sheet styrene and were then tacked together with superglue. I then used my power sander to shape the wings as one piece to ensure they were identical. Once I liked the shape I popped them loose and sanded them smooth on all sides with fine sandpaper.

I set the wings aside and started on the main body of the ship. I took 1 piece of clothes hanger wire and wrapped it with another exactly like it. Then I bulked up the basic shape with aluminum foil and wrapped the whole thing with light gauge stainless steel wire so the clay would have something to grip to. The next step was to add the Pro-mat. I gathered up about a golf ball size chunk of the clay-like material and rolled it out flat, using baby powder to keep it from sticking to the roller or counter. Each piece was then laid onto the armature and smoothed on. After the basic shape was achieved, I baked it for 10 minutes to get the clay hard but not fully cured. I planned to bake it more so I didn't want to over bake my base layer.

Once the base layer cooled, I covered it with Pro-Mat all over again, only this time I sculpted in the details. The humps around the head were cast from a master that I sculpted separately from the ship. The ball for the nose was made separately and put in position with the second layer. The third baking brought the top and bottom nose "flaps" over the ball and the smallest details. The last layer was the humps running down the sides of the ship that the wings attach to. To scult these I rolled the Pro-Mat into tubes and cut them in half with a hobby knife. I then laid them into position and smoothed them in with vegetable oil to assure adhesure during baking. Before baking I took each wing and pushed it into the soft humps where they would be placed in the end. While finishing the humps, I sculpted the engine and did touch ups on the body. Finally, I did the last baking for 45 minutes on 275 F.

The last step in construction was to superglue the wings on and fill the gaps with superglue. Then I got the idea to give the skin texture without it being too thick or scribed-in looking. I put a tip on my superglue bottle and covered the ship with lines of super glue all over in a random fashion, all the while spraying it with liberal amounts of accelerator occasionally. The results IMHO, are killer. The Zipkicker gives it that crazy squiggle look that humans can't get by hand.

Painting was done with Testors ModelMaster paints and a Paashe VL airbrush. I put on a base coat with a mustard color (not sure about name, but it could have been their 'RAF Middlestone' or 'Afrika Corps Tan'). Next came stripes in Military Brown, and finally outline stripes in Flat Black. The nose ball was hand painted Chrome and after drying was gloss coated 3 times. On the last coat of gloss I dragged a brush thinly coated in light blue over the wet gloss coat to get some color in it. The engine is Steel and the blue on the neck bumps is a R/C paint for lexan. (Try these paints. They make for some strange and cool results sometimes. They're from Pactra I think). After all dried for a week, I glossed the whole thing about 3 times and drilled the hole for the stand.

Figures: Vorlons and Shadows, Oh My!

The Vorlons were the first and second things that I made out of Pro-Mat that had to be symetrical. References were hard to get for different views and close ups, so once again I used my imagination and came up with some details on my own.

The basic body of the Vorlons are made from a big ball of aluminum foil, half a roll in each vorlon. This made a pillar to set the head and shoulders on. A very thin layer of Pro-Mat was put all over the aluminum foil to keep it together and to give the upper body something to grip to when merged with the lower. I baked it till hard and set it aside for later.

To make the "shoulders" I made a rough shaped armature from clothes hangers wrapped with small gauge wire. Next I applied small bits of Pro-mat until I got the general shape. Then I took tools and sculpted in the details. I prefer to sculpt soft, a lot of people bake then sculpt. Either way works... The head itself was sculpted separately on a basic armature made of, yep you guessed it, wire and aluminum foil.

On Kosh, the tubes coming out of the sides are shrink tubing, the wings on the shoulders are epoxy putty that was shaped and crimped with needle nose pliers, and the chest plates and the wings coming out of it are sheet styrene. The back of the chest plate (the black area) is a piece of an old naugahyde purse my wife gave me. I used the same superglue skin trick used on the Drakh ship to make the patterns on the chest plate. The skirt is made of an old press rag from work covered with white glue and purple glitter. While it dried I carefully placed it around the bottom of the head and around the pillar so that it would drape correctly.

Ulkesh and Kosh

Ulkesh and Kosh - house Vorlons



On Ulkesh the head was baked first and shaped with a file. Then I coated it with a micro thin layer of Pro-Mat to make surface detail from. After final baking, I drilled out the head and put in an LED, but haven't ever pursued hooking it up. The spikes or wings were sculpted separate from the shoulders and sculpted in after the second bake. The back of the chest plate is made from really thin styrene sheet and the main chest plate is sculpted from Super Sculpey, another clay like Pro-Mat but not as fine grained. The skirt is the same as Kosh's. All painting was airbrushed with Testors paints and detailed with brushed oils.

The Shadow was a labor of love. They are the baddest dudes ever in any sci-fi story anywhere. I had to have one! Believe it or not, I sculpted the whole thing in one night and was chugging beers and "partying" the whole time with my wife. We were watching B5 tapes while sculpting and I just started doing it when I saw the shadow in an episode. I took polaroids of freezeframes on the tv and started the computer to look at the only known picture of a Shadow on the web or anywhere else in the world.

All pieces of the creature are made from solid Pro-Mat and each piece was reinforced with hanger wire or paper clips. The head and neck were sculpted first, then baked. Next I sculpted the shoulders and wings around the neck, and baked. While all this baking is going on, I was sculpting the arms by coating hanger wire with pro-mat and shaping fingers from paperclips to stick in the arm ends. Tiny balls of promat make the joints. Of course, once done, I baked 'em. The body was sculpted during baking time, also. The legs are the same as the arms, wires coated with Pro-mat then shaped and baked. All the spikes and ligaments and tendons are made of tiny rolls of promat. After all of the main components were done, the legs are smoothed in with promat and baked to the body.

Next I glued all of the parts together with super glue and superglued all of the spikes and tendons and ligaments on. Painting was easy. Solid gloss Red Brown base with Gloss Black shading with an airbrush. The whole figure was thinly camoflage patterned with the Gloss Black. It came out pretty good - for one night's work I mean!

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Last updated on 10 August 1998